The invisible crutch phrase (rants and confessions)

Feb - 02 2010 | By

What is one of the most useless sets of pad-words, a mainstay of badfic, a hallmark of inattentive or amateurish writing? Hint: It isn’t on any of the big lists of useless crap.

Watched as

Watched WHAT as? “As” implies simultaneous action. “As” is overused and abused enough without this pernicious parasitic phrase.

This well-established writerism goes unnoticed, even when it is used twice in the same page. How many occurrences can you count in your work? Can you live with it once you’re aware of it?

I am painfully aware. It bugs the hell out of me; the w.a. flea jumps out and bites me wherever I find it. When I see it in a beginning sentence, I read no more, because I know the rest is going to be poorly written. I confess to having let it slip out once, several years ago, in a fan-fic. This is all the more embarrassing because I am generally uncanonical and iconoclastic in my ficking. I hope to atone for that sin by raising awareness in others.

Ask yourself what it stands in for. What did you mean when you dropped in that habitual “watched as”? Does it mean merely that the character is watching something happen? Then say, “MC watched the parade pass by,” or “MC watched Villain skin Friend alive.” Does it mean more than that? Then say, “Held by the spell, MC watched, frustrated and helpless, while Villain skinned Friend alive.” Lousy example, but you can see how little meaning w.a. has.

A warning about “As” in general: While actions may be simultaneous, they can also have causative relationships, and/or might not have the same duration. I’ve seen a lot of as-linked phrases that implied a role reversal. “The specters crossed the room as the candle flickered once” does not give the same picture as “The candle flickered once as the specters crossed the room“. The first example is totally cockeyed; it says that the spectral parade lasted only as long as the brief flicker of the candle. I’ve seen this done over and over by writers with a bad as-habit.

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